Rewilding underway in Ukrainian Danube Delta as multiple obsolete dams removed

written by Oceanographic Staff

Ten obsolete dams have been removed in the territory of the Danube Biosphere Reserve (DBR) on the Sarata and Koginik Rivers. This move will help to restore wild nature and should provide economic benefit to local communities.

The removal of these barriers will create approximately 20km of new habitat along the Kogilnik and Sarata, including flooded meadows. This will benefit a huge variety of wildlife, including wild carp, otters, frogs and numerous species of breeding and migratory birds.

Rewilding Europe Ukraine dams

“It’s great to see these rivers flowing freely once again,” says Rewilding Ukraine Executive Director Mykhailo Nesterenko. “For many years these obsolete dams had a detrimental impact on fish populations, other wildlife and people. This removal project, which will aid our rewilding efforts in the delta significantly, serves as a role model for other outdated dams across the delta and Ukraine.”

The small, Soviet-era dams restricted flow close to the mouths of both rivers, which had a damaging impact of river beds and biodiversity. Dams generally have a damaging environmental effect because they disrupt migratory pathways of fish, blocking sediment transport and fragmenting habitat.

The campaign, conducted as part of the Dam Removal Europe (DRE) initiative, was financed by a crowdfunding campaign. Founded in 2016, the DRE – a joint initiative of Rewilding Europe, WWF, The Rivers Trust, the World Fish Migration Foundation and ERN France – is a European-wide coalition working to scale up the removal process. The hope is that the removal of these dams will restore natural processes in the area, revitalise the rivers, supporting the area’s rewilding process, and contribute to the development of local nature-based economies.

Rewilding Europe Ukraine dams

“This project will benefit a wide range of wildlife, but especially fish,” says Alexander Voloshkevich, Director of the DBR. “Removing the dams will improve river flow, revitalising local vegetation which serves as a spawning ground. More fish is obviously good news for fishermen. Enhanced river flow will also increase riverside meadow areas, which should boost local grazing,” he continues. “Last but not least, better natural channelisation will reduce the flooding of agricultural land and a local highway.”

Local communities, who were consulted on the project, look to benefit from the dam removal and rewilding of the area. The town council of Tatarbunary approved the project, as fishermen will profit from healthier fish stocks, and a rejuvenation of the natural environment may create new opportunities for nature-based tourism.

In 2020 the project will enter its second phase, when feasibility studies for upriver channel clearance and restoration will be conducted.

Photographs by Maxim Yakovlev, courtesy of Rewilding Europe.

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